Last summer I interviewed a renowned (and award-winning) neuroscientist who specializes in Alzheimer's disease (AD) research. I found her predictions and ongoing lab results to be both fascinating and hopeful. This feature story was originally commissioned by a leading health content provider but was never published. Its medical board ruled her views might be too hopeful—it chose to err on the side of caution, rather than post a piece that suggests a cure for AD may be on the horizon. I certainly understand this official position; the cutting-edge work presented here is not yet mainstream. Still, I'd like to share my conversation with one of the most respected voices in the field of AD research, so I'll post it here.--LPK
Many people think of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) as a kind of genetic bullet. One that’s impossible to dodge for an unlucky subset of people who develop this debilitating, degenerative, and (at least for now) always-fatal condition.
The surprising news?
The latest research from a leading neuroscientist and her team suggests only 1% of all AD patients, those with a specific genetic inheritance, are predetermined to develop it.
“There is time to intervene” for the remaining “99% who do not have a single mutation issue. It’s a constellation of factors,” says Roberta Diaz Brinton, director at the Center for Innovation in Brain Science at the University of Arizona, and a key founder of the Alliance of Women Alzheimer’s Researchers (AWARE), who was also named “Scientist of the Year” in 2015 by the Alzheimer Drug Discovery Foundation. “This is not an overnight disease.”
She refers to the 20-year window of time—called the prodromal phase—between ages 52 and 72, when initial signs and symptoms of AD—memory loss, cognitive disability, physical decline, and dementia—generally first surface. (Early onset AD, which comprises just 5% off all patients, shows a different, accelerated trajectory, with symptoms appearing before the age of 65.)
[UPDATE: I wrote and posted this opinion piece on 11/18. As of 11/24, three more women have come forward, claiming Sen. Al Franken groped them during photo ops at various events after he'd been elected to his current office. Franken responded to these allegations by apologizing for making these women "feel badly" while vowing to regain the public trust.]
And, now, Senator Al Franken.
(I’d insert the word “sigh” here, but it doesn’t adequately capture the sound of blood retching in my throat.)
#YouToo, Al? Really?
This is where Democrats, long bearers of the secular high ground (protected elephants, clean air and water, gender equity, civil rights, Nazi trampling, more) must resist the urge to slide into moral relativism.
In the past few days some prominent feminists and students of rape culture are outright excusing the Minnesota lawmaker’s gross mauling (actual and photographic) of a Playboy Playmate because Republicans don’t play fair! And ousting him will hurt more women in the long run! Why should WE do what THEY refuse to do? Or so the foot-stomping calculation goes. This argument sounds rather like a strategic war game, with far-removed generals in Washington knowingly giving up a few grunt soldiers on the bloody front to make winning inroads into enemy territory. A tactic that is not only cynical but ice cold to the female victim who seethed in silence for more than decade, and who chose to share her story during a profound social moment/movement when she actually thought she might be heard, and believed.
So much for girl power and rallying behind the truth-tellers. Lena Dunham wrote not long ago about how women might lie about what they ate for lunch, but would never, ever lie about rape—unless, of course, when it's one of her groovy male friends being accused. Then they do lie, she now backpedals, granting herself and her pal special exemption. [UPDATE: Dunham, facing a furious and near instantaneous backlash from women, backpedaled her backpedal and apologized.]
And what of environmental activist, Hollywood gal-about-town Laurie David, who just begged this offensive question on Twitter:
Here’s where I must ask Ms. David: Are you seriously scolding women for their REactions to men sticking their tongues down our throats uninvited, rather than men’s despicable ACTIONS for doing so? Demanding we women properly, prophylactically prepare to police guys’ bad behavior in the name of a liberal lawmaker whose clay feet have suddenly, painstakingly been revealed?
No. Just: no.
I have long admired Al Franken, both for his droll wit and fierce championing of Democratic causes, so I deeply understand the urge to rise to his defense. But the senator chose to talk the talk, publicly and with conviction. Now we must demand he walk the walk, disheartening as it is.
How else can we also demand justice for the teenaged victims of Roy Moore? And accountability from our lecherous president, who at last count has either 12 or 13 (depending on which cable news network you follow) women openly accusing him of groping, nonconsensual kissing, even sexual assault, and who has bragged on tape about grabbing women by their pussies? I’m not including in this list the anonymous shadow victim who reportedly pulled her legal case in the days running up to the 2016 election against Donald Trump, claiming the real estate mogul tied her to a bed and raped her in 1994 when she was a 13-year-old aspiring model attending a party at the home of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, now a registered sex offender. After receiving death threats and fearing for her life she retreated once again into the shadows, or so her lawyer Lisa Bloom says.
Bill Maher—another hero of mine for his defense of free speech and his skewering of hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle— argues we should not lump Franken in the same category as these other, egregious Republican offenders. Because what’s a little grope or forced French kiss of a grown woman compared to sexually touching a 14-year-old girl, am I right? (He seems to suggest.) While I might agree there IS a spectrum of assault, and levels of both penalty and forgiveness to be debated in some fields, we’re talking about the lauded U.S. Senate here. Yes, Franken admitted his transgression, begged forgiveness and an internal ethics probe, too, which is the absolute opposite response of Moore, et. al., who not only continue to deny but also defy with their refusal to go away.
Yet, standards are standards. Applying the same very low bar we set for kindergartners—keep your body parts (hands, mouth) off your neighbor—to 100 senators of both genders seems reasonable. Surely we can find 100 Americans to serve who have not thus transgressed as wholly formed adults?
Bottom line: We can’t scream about partisan GOP circling of the wagons, sneering down at so-called simple Alabamians who protect their hero, even as we do the very same thing. I’m all for ditching knives and bringing guns to a gun fight, but Democrats must consider the long game here. And the long game, like the arc of justice, bends toward truth and doing what’s unassailably right. And what’s right is not turning a blind eye to wrongdoing just because we like Franken, and his specific brand of politics.
"Applying the same very low bar we set
for kindergartners—keep your hands, mouth, and genitals off your neighbor—to 100 U.S. senators of both genders seems reasonable. Surely we can find
100 Americans to serve who have not thus
transgressed as wholly formed adults?"
We’ve already made this mistake once, with Bill Clinton. Ignoring the fallout of that man’s misdeeds—not only perjury under oath (impeached but pardoned) and the sullying of the highest office of the land, but the power imbalance of a president getting involved with a 22-year-old intern, a forbidden work relationship that would see any other Fortune 500 CEO fired, not to mention the many women Trump trotted out during last year’s debates to remind us all of Bill’s long list of female accusers who were then viciously sullied, too, and often by Democrats—while pretending it would not sink Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2016. The country remembers. Many folks—Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike—were deeply offended not only by this gross display but by how Hillary stood by her man, Tammy Wynette grinning in the background, whilst throwing a few of Bill’s female accusers under the bus as she did so. Her “vast, right-wing conspiracy” theory refused to examine the serious, perhaps even criminal failings of her husband, and her own complicity in covering up his seemingly uncontrollable appetites. As did Gloria Steinem and a cadre of vocal feminists at the time, who together went on record explaining why Bill should be forgiven, even as they trashed Monica Lewinsky for being just another frumpy, frivolous little tart.
Democrats, we can’t demand Republicans clean up their side of the fence if we refuse to look at the crap in our own backyards. It’s that simple.
You want to block Roy Moore’ senate bid? Trot out the Access Hollywood tape as irrefutable evidence the most powerful man in the world must be removed from office? Then don’t be a bunch of hypocrites. Yell louder. Demand justice. Stand for what’s right. Stand for women. And don’t excuse an assault simply because the perpetrator plays on your—our!—team, and the accuser is into target practice and has been known to pose in the nude on occasion.
I love you, Al Franken. I do! But you gotta’ go. And if you step down we can better make the case against the other men who abuse women, and their positions of power, too.
Turns out the snarky myth about the school jock being dumb couldn't be further from the truth. Research shows fitter students generally do better academically—because daily exercise promotes neuroplasticity in the brain, boosting learning potential in kids, says John J. Ratey of Harvard Medical School. (Why, exactly, are we universally cutting P.E. classes from the school schedule, again?) Here's my story in WebMD Magazine. (See pg. 32 in the digital edition.)
I interviewed two top researchers working closely with NASA to learn what preparations are being made now to safely send astronauts of both genders to Mars—by the 2030s. (For those keeping count, that's a mere dozen or so years from now ... exciting!) Did you know kidney stones and bone density loss are two of the biggest physical challenges to long-term space travel? And that when it comes to baselines among genders in space, there are no measurable differences? Don't just watch this space, scroll to pg. 14 to learn more about our mission to Mars in the digital edition of WebMD Magazine's Nov/Dec issue, out today.
Photo by TIFF.
I don’t want to loathe Louis C.K. I like to think of him as a single dad full of foibles, trying to raise two girls into strong women as he grapples with his own messed up emotional life in frantic, digitally driven, often-alienating New York City.
I like Louis. I might even love him.
The realism of his FX sitcom “Louie,” now scrubbed from the cable network, is bone-cuttingly close, which is why it’s so absurdly funny, and why I’ve watched individual episodes, on repeat, countless times. He’s my adult version of “The Brady Bunch”: tune in, mouth the lines along with Lily and Jane and Pamela and Bobby—he even gave us a Bobby!—then laugh out loud, even when the joke is as familiar as a friend. Back in the 1970s I used to run home after school as a latchkey kid to watch Marcia & co. throw footballs, cut records, and woo Davey Jones. The Bradys made me feel safe in a chaotic, sometimes lonely world of divorce and confusion. Similarly, since 2010 “Louie” has been my entertainment comfort food, a funny alternative to “alternative facts,” bickering pundits, and increasingly stomach-turning cable news reports, after I’d put my own kids to bed.
Until the recent revelations of his own version of toxic masculinity came out in The New York Times, I even considered him a hero. A hero of what, you ask? Human frailty. And excess, be it food or sex or sleeping too much to escape. Even his incessant masturbation jokes came off as a pathetic plea, one he knowingly winked at as he invited us to laugh at, and along with, him—and not a menacing power play. (With the exception, of course, of the “rape” episode, “Pamela, Part 1,” a distressing plot line that should not be overlooked, or written off.) He let us know it was OK—even normal—to be a little uncouth, vaguely depressed, sloppy, enslaved to the indignities of bodily functions, bemused and bothered by parenthood, lost in a relationship, pathetic and even a bit pervy at times. His utter bafflement about modern adulthood sent a message: Hey. I’m just like you. I might not live or act like Louie (not Louis, but his lovable alter ego on the show), yet his unflinching, open book presentation of his many flaws is undeniably reassuring in this auto-corrected, Photoshopped era of never-ending filtered selfies and promoted, if fake, perfection.
Still, reel life and real life are two very different things. Because he’s not just like me. Or any of the female comics he wielded enormous power over as he entrapped them in his own warped way of getting himself off. As he and his team of male cronies knowingly stripped them of career advancement. And that’s just gross.
"Reel life and real life are two very different things.
Because he’s not just like me—or any of
the female comics he wielded enormous power over
as he entrapped them in his own
warped way of getting himself off."
So, I guess it’s over. For him, and for me. It’s a bummer, Louis. Like so many women I’m left wondering, “Why?” The man is exceedingly talented, which led to enormous fame and wealth. Why the need for him to literally rub it in our faces? What he’s accused of, and what he publicly admits to doing, is so egregiously hostile. To women and to girls. (Oh, what do his girls think of their father now? How can he face them?) The false front of using his own foibles as fodder is just that: an act.
Which means I never really loved you, Louis. Nope. Not at all.
And just like that, another hero takes a fall.
We all know losing a job is one of life's most stressful events. But were you aware long-term unemployment can negatively impact both physical and psychiatric health, and even lead to an early death? I just interviewed Dr. Robert Leahy, Clinical Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Weill-Cornell University Medical College, New York Presbyterian Hospital, on this subject. The research is alarming: higher rates of heart disease, depression, insomnia, and even criminal activity and mortality rates, including suicide. Leahy offers guidance to those battling high levels of stress while searching for a new opportunity. I'll post the story when it's live on WebMD.
Just interviewed comedian Jim Gaffigan and his writing partner wife, Jeannie Gaffigan, who had a six-cm. benign tumor removed from her brain stem last April. They candidly discussed her health crisis with me, from surgery to Jeannie's long recovery, plus talked about parenthood and their five children—and how the experience is now shaping their outlook on life, love, family, and Jim's standup comedy career. Look for this WebMD Magazine cover story next March! I'll post it then.